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It's time to tell your family about your estate plan

There's something to be said for the value of transparency in all human relationships. Generally, even if the truth hurts, knowing the truth will help you and everyone else in the long run. This is especially true when it comes to estate planning.

Let's say you're like most Americans, and you have the kind of family that doesn't like to talk about money. Maybe your family beats around the bush when it comes to difficult truths. This kind of attitude, when applied to your estate plan, can cause problems later on down the road -- particularly when one or more heirs, or potential heirs, doesn't understand the asset distribution plan you chose.

Hold a family meeting with everyone present

Consider holding a family meeting, where everyone is sitting together around the same table, and you talk about what you want to happen with your estate after you're gone. If you want to give away half your money to charity, tell your children why this is so important to you. If you want to give more money to one child over the other, tell them why you've decided to do this. When your family understands your reasoning, and they hear it together at the same time, it will dramatically reduce the chance of in-fighting, disagreements, and will contestations after you're gone.

Keep this in mind while discussing your estate plan

There are three key words to keep in mind while discussing your estate:

(1) Understanding: Talking about your estate plan, and the fact that you will eventually die, is never easy for any family -- no matter if you're doing the talking, or you're doing the listening. Always keep the stance of trying to understand your family, and rather than taking offense or getting "triggered" into the defensive. Ask questions that help you understand why they have certain opinions. Also, let your family members know the reasons behind your decisions.

(2) Congruence: Effective communication always includes the "emotional dimension." Stay focused on everyone's feelings, and never lose sight of your emotions and those of your family. You might be tempted to be logical and give ultimatums, but this can be destructive to your goal of ensuring that everyone is on board and in agreement with your estate planning choices. Be careful not to fall into a bickering dispute.

(3) Mutuality: Establish a sense of "peership" in the conversation. Always convey the sense of respect, belongingness, engagement and meet your family on an equal level. You're not coldly dispensing the law of the land. Rather, you're addressing everyone as equals and honoring their feelings and opinions.

Get help from an estate planning lawyer

Before conducting your family meeting, you might want to go over your estate plan with an experienced California estate planning lawyer. A lawyer can provide guidance about typical asset distribution strategies. He or she can also give you advice on how to talk about your estate plan with your family.

Source: Nov. 30, -0001

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